Cannabis for Pets



The tremen­dous heal­ing prop­er­ties—and the le­gal con­tro­versy.

“Just over a year ago, Cooper, an eight-year-old Ger­man Short-haired Pointer, started sneez­ing blood. We dis­cov­ered he had a tu­mour in his nose, and over time it started to eat through his nasal bone. Cooper was given a high dose of full-spec­trum hemp ex­tract— a prod­uct with mul­ti­ple cannabi­noids in it as well as ter­penes and flavonoids that some the­o­rize works bet­ter than CBD alone— and, within six weeks, his nasal bone re­turned to nor­mal and his breath­ing im­proved. To­day, he’s breath­ing eas­ily, and his nasal bone looks nor­mal.” Mar­i­juana. It has be­come a daily topic on the news. Both Canada and the United States are tak­ing steps down the path of de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion, with roughly two dozen states hav­ing le­gal­ized mar­i­juana, and Canada ex­pected to do so na­tion­ally in 2018. But, be­fore we get into a dis­cus­sion about the ben­e­fits of cannabis for com­pan­ion an­i­mals, let’s take a step back. What is mar­i­juana—and are we talk­ing about get­ting our pets ‘high’? Mar­i­juana comes from the cannabis sativa plant and has been cul­ti­vated for more than 10,000 years. Ev­i­dence of its use for medic­i­nal pur­poses is as old as the writ­ten word. Chi­nese writ­ings on the sub­ject date as far back as 2000BC. Cannabis has been used in hu­man medicine for the treat­ment of chronic pain, seizures, eye dis­eases, anx­i­ety disor­ders, pal­lia­tive com­fort, and other ail­ments since the dawn of both agri­cul­ture and hu­man medicine. To­day, a grow­ing body of ev­i­dence sug­gests that this ben­e­fi­cial plant could play a vi­tal role in the treat­ment of animal health. And, no, we are not talk­ing about get­ting our pets ‘high.’ Not at all. There are many hun­dreds of chem­i­cal com­pounds in cannabis and al­most all have been shown to pos­sess medic­i­nal prop­er­ties. The two pri­mary com­po­nents of cannabis that are most of­ten dis­cussed are Te­trahy­dro­cannabi­nol ( THC) and Cannabid­iol (CBD). THC is the widely-known com­po­nent of mar­i­juana that gets peo­ple ‘stoned,’ but when we talk about cannabi­noids and animal medicine, we are fo­cus­ing on CBD. CBD of­fers the medic­i­nal ben­e­fits associated with mar­i­juana, with­out the psy­chotropic side ef­fects of THC. Hemp is also a cannabis plant, but one that con­tains very lit­tle THC. Both the pur­pose of the hemp plant and the way it is cul­ti­vated are dif­fer­ent than mar­i­juana. Hemp is used for

count­less prac­ti­cal pur­poses, rang­ing from cloth­ing to beauty prod­ucts. But a key dif­fer­ence is this: hemp can­not get you or your pet high. Ever. Nev­er­the­less, in the United States, hemp is il­le­gal—an ironic fact given that the first flag sewn for the coun­try ( by Betsy Ross) was made from, you guessed it: hemp. “Rhumba, a 15-year-old do­mes­tic short­hair cat, was show­ing pro­gres­sive signs of pain and arthri­tis. A con­ven­tional ap­proach to re­duc­ing in­flam­ma­tion and pain us­ing Non-Steroidal Anti-In­flam­ma­tory Drugs (NSAIDs) like Tra­madol or Me­ta­cam wasn’t an op­tion, be­cause this cat was also on pred­nisone for ir­ri­ta­ble bowel dis­ease. Opi­oids also made him un­steady. After two weeks tak­ing one drop of CBD oil twice a day, he was eat­ing bet­ter and more in­ter­ac­tive. Rhumba was back to jump­ing up on the counter again like he hadn’t done in a year.”— a vet­eri­nar­ian, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity Dr. Robert Sil­ver is an ex­pert on the sub­ject of cannabi­noids in animal medicine. He started prac­tic­ing as a vet­eri­nar­ian in Colorado in 1982 but ceased in 2012, be­liev­ing he could do more good for peo­ple and pets from a non-prac­tic­ing pul­pit. Since then, he has worked with in­dus­try to pro­mote in­for­ma­tion about good health with cannabis and other nu­traceu­ti­cals. He minces no words about his goal: “I’m on a mis­sion to pro­vide a safe space for the use of cannabis in vet­eri­nary medicine.” His book Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana & Your Pet: The De­fin­i­tive Guide is a ground-break­ing work on a sub­ject that is still taboo and cur­rently an eth­i­cal co­nun­drum for vet­eri­nar­i­ans. When Dr. Sil­ver was in prac­tice, he found that clients typ­i­cally brought up the sub­ject at the eleventh hour. “When noth­ing else works, peo­ple look for al­ter­na­tives,” he says. “But in their des­per­a­tion to help ail­ing pets, some were us­ing their own ‘ weed,’ which is not ap­pro­pri­ate for dogs and can lead to se­ri­ous is­sues.” “Molly is a 10-year-old Labrador Retriever with se­vere hip dys­pla­sia and her con­di­tion wasn’t re­spond­ing to NSAIDS. Acupunc­ture and Chi­nese herbs helped for a while, then she went down­hill. Molly’s pet par­ent asked me how to dose a hemp for­mu­la­tion based on its CBD con­tent. I ad­vised her on the cor­rect dose, and within two weeks, Molly was run­ning around like she hadn’t done in at least a year or two.”— a vet­eri­nar­ian, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity Dr. Caro­line Coile, Ph.D. and au­thor of the book Cannabis and CBD Sci­ence for Dogs main­tains that CBDs' big­gest value is in main­tain­ing health, es­pe­cially for mid­dle-aged or se­nior pets. Cannabi­noids pre­vent and com­bat com­mon com­plaints of ag­ing, in­clud­ing the diminu­tion of men­tal ca­pac­i­ties, anx­i­ety, lack of ap­petite, and in­flam­ma­tion and pain associated with arthri­tis. But be­yond that, cannabi­noids may sim­ply make pets feel bet­ter, im­prov­ing their com­fort, mood, ac­tiv­ity, and ap­petite, so they feel and act like a younger ver­sion of them­selves. When safely ad­min­is­tered, ev­i­dence in­di­cates that CBD can be of great ben­e­fit to both dogs and cats, but it’s crit­i­cal to un­der­stand what’s safe and what’s not safe. Mar­i­juana is a def­i­nite no. Dogs have an ex­tremely high num­ber of THC re­cep­tors and, as a re­sult, their risk of tox­i­c­ity from mar­i­juana is sig­nif­i­cant. In cases of in­ges­tion, dogs can de­velop static ataxia which ex­hibits as if the dog is in­tox­i­cated. In re­al­ity, this a se­ri­ous med­i­cal con­di­tion that can cause death. There’s added risk if a dog in­gests mar­i­juana con­sum­ables that in­clude choco­late or raisins— both of which can be harm­ful to them. CBD, on the other hand, is de­rived from hemp and con­tains less than 0.3% THC. An ex­ten­sive re­view in 2011 looked for any ev­i­dence that CBD could have harm­ful ef­fects. CBD was found to be non­toxic to pets, with very few, if any, side ef­fects.

“Chance, a 20-year-old Ben­gal cat with chronic kid­ney dis­ease, had os­teoarthri­tis in his back and hips. He had dif­fi­culty mak­ing it to his lit­ter box and was drink­ing a lot of wa­ter to com­pen­sate for his kid­ney is­sues. Ini­tially, he was given a rel­a­tively low dose, but wouldn’t eat his food with the hemp in it, as his kid­ney prob­lem had af­fected his ap­petite. He was given 2 mg of full spec­trum hemp ex­tract— a prod­uct with mul­ti­ple cannabi­noids in it as well as ter­penes and flavonoids that some the­o­rize works bet­ter than CBD alone— and started play­ing again with his other 20-year-old house­mate.” — a vet­eri­nar­ian, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity Skep­ti­cal? Con­sider this. Both the animal and hu­man en­do­cannabi­noid sys­tems are the largest re­cep­tor sys­tems in our bod­ies. “Mar­i­juana and its var­i­ous el­e­ments en­ter our bod­ies,” ex­plains Dr. Sil­ver, “and then ba­si­cally mate with our body’s own cannabi­noids.” We—and our pets—are lit­er­ally en­gi­neered to ben­e­fit from cannabi­noids. True, stud­ies have been few and far be­tween, but it’s hard to fund and pub­lish stud­ies on a plant with a decades-long stigma. In the United States to­day, even hemp and mar­i­juana ex­tracts with zero THC are con­sid­ered an il­le­gal Sched­ule 1 drug. Il­le­gal sub­stance or not, re­search con­tin­ues. Cases of can­cer tu­mours shrink­ing dra­mat­i­cally, hard-to- con­trol seizures vir­tu­ally halted, pain man­age­ment suc­cess sto­ries… it’s all out there in the form of anec­do­tal re­ports. With ev­ery new pub­lished re­port, we add cre­dence to the dis­cus­sion—and vet­eri­nar­i­ans gain fur­ther knowl­edge. Talk of forth­com­ing stud­ies from the Uni­ver­si­ties of Colorado and Cor­nell are ref­er­enced rou­tinely among vets with an in­ter­est in this sub­ject. When it comes to the use of cannabis in vet­eri­nary medicine, one thing is clear: we have a long way to go. Even as law­mak­ers have taken steps to de- crim­i­nal­ize the prod­uct for hu­man use, there has been no path laid for vet­eri­nar­i­ans to in­te­grate cannabis into their treat­ment pro­grams. It’s high time for that to change. Let’s not let this age- old ap­proach that can help our pets pass us by. The an­i­mals we love de­serve bet­ter.

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